Friday, December 1, 2023

“Drawing” with Paint: A Technique of Many Ironies


11/27/23 Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble graphite (pan form)
in Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook (Earthsworld reference photo)

I’ve lately been learning interesting tips and ideas from Steve Mitchell, whose YouTube channel is The Mind of Watercolor. One I found especially intriguing is the way he uses watercolor to “sketch” or “draw” as if the brush were a pencil. (This is not at all like direct watercolor painting, which is simply painting without an initial underdrawing.)

With this technique, Steve avoids applying broad strokes of paint and instead uses only the very tip of a fine brush to emulate a pencil. Using a single pale dilution of “palette dirt” (his term for the grayish paint leftover on the mixing tray), he builds values gradually in layers just as he would when sketching with graphite.

11/26/23 Sakura watercolors in Hahnemuhle sketchbook
(photo reference)

Steve’s favorite brush for this technique is the smallest available in the Derwent line of waterbrushes. I have one, but I don’t care for it, so for the sketch of bare trees below, I started out using my favorite Kuretake. Because I use waterbrushes almost exclusively with everything, I found it ironic that I eventually switched to a traditional watercolor brush because the waterbrush kept further diluting the already pale “palette dirt,” making it continually paler. I also thought the Kuretake brush was too broad for this purpose.

For the portrait, I used the pan version of Viarco ArtGraf (a new-to-me product that I’m excited to get into; a dedicated post on it will be coming later). It’s basically water-soluble graphite in cake form. I had to chuckle to myself about the mind-twisting paradox of using a liquid form of graphite to draw with a brush while emulating a pencil! Huh??!

With both sketches, I was tempted to darken the dilution of the paint or graphite to build up darks faster, and I also kept wanting to “paint” wider strokes to speed up the process, but to do either would be to miss the point. The idea is to glaze the layers gradually using as fine a brush line as possible to get the feeling of pencil sketching and a result that’s similar in appearance. Once I got past the painty feeling that holding a brush gave me and slowed down, just as I would with a pencil, I really enjoyed the process. You can see how it might appeal to a penciler like me! (I wonder if painters who don’t enjoy pencil sketching find this method appealing, too?)

Two things worth exploring further: This technique and
ArtGraf water-soluble graphite in pan form.
Again, I had to laugh at the supreme irony: For a while now, I’ve been trying to teach myself to think more like a painter while using dry media (and to be more painterly with media that can work both wet and dry). The Mind of Watercolor technique encourages being more drawerly with wet media!

This technique deserves further exploration. For more demos by Steve on this subject, see this video.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Late-Fall Backlighting


11/26/23 Wedgwood neighborhood

At various times of the year, I become more aware of the beauty of backlighting. When I look at my backlit sketches, it seems like I’ve caught it more often in spring and summer, but probably the best time is late fall and winter. The mid-day light might as well be mid-afternoon, and mid-afternoon already looks like the golden hour.

Before picking up a few groceries at Metropolitan Market, I pulled over a few blocks away where the yellow foliage in these trees stopped me in my tracks (at left). Or actually, it wasn’t so much the foliage as the low, “late” light (it was only 2:30 p.m.) that set the trees ablaze.

I usually take my walks before mid-morning, but the temps then have been in the low-to-mid 30s. Walking on either side of noon, the backlighting behind trees makes all the shadows reach toward me – an irresistible composition (below).

11/25/23 Roosevelt neighborhood

11/25/23 Green Lake neighborhood

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Expedition vs. Lifestyle

9/27/23 Maple Leaf neighborhood

9/289/23 Maple Leaf

 A member of Urban Sketchers recently commented on one of my posts in the Facebook group that my sketches seem to be made spontaneously wherever I happen to be rather than a specific location I went to with the purpose of sketching there. I have been sketching spontaneously for so much of my sketching life that I hardly think of any other way to do it, but her comment made me stop and consider.

9/29/23 Maple Leaf

10/9/23 Green Lake neighborhood

I do think that most urban sketchers can be sorted into two stacks: the “expedition” sketchers (who plan a place to go, then go there to sketch) and the “lifestyle” sketchers (who sketch wherever they happen to be). Many sketchers do both, of course, but each type takes a different mindset and, interestingly, a different type of sketch kit.

I can usually tell just by looking at someone’s sketch kit which type they are. If they have piles of different materials and media, multiple sketchbook formats, maybe an easel setup and portable stool, all packed into a humongous backpack or tote, I’d venture to guess that they are an expedition sketcher. Conversely, a lifestyle sketcher keeps a fairly basic sketch kit with them at all times in their daily-carry bag.

10/20/23 Maple Leaf

Less than a year after I began sketching, I realized I was a lifestyle sketcher.
I began honing my sketch kit so that it would be an integral part of my daily-carry bag – not a dedicated bag I used only when I went out specifically to sketch. I’ve been honing that kit ever since, and now it’s as slim as it has ever been (or is likely to be).

10/21/23 Maple Leaf

10/27/23 Maple Leaf

Ever since sketching became my incentive for daily fitness walks several years ago (a habit reinforced by the first pandemic year when I wasn’t going anywhere), most of my urban sketching has been spontaneous. Ironically, with my rekindled interest in watercolors this year (and, for that matter, other media besides my usual colored pencils), I find myself building a rapidly growing auxiliary sketch kit that looks a lot like something an expedition sketcher would use (yes, I’ll show it sometime soon). It’s definitely too much for daily-carry, which is a bit frustrating because it means I’m limited to using these other materials only on planned outings instead of spontaneously.

11/2/23 Maple Leaf

11/8/23 Maple Leaf

Regardless of how that auxiliary kit develops, my daily-carry/fitness-walking sketch kit will remain the same. After all, expeditions can happen only once in a while; life happens every day.

11/13/23 Maple Leaf

11/16/23 The Brothers from the NE 80th St. I-5 overpass, Maple Leaf

11/17/23 Maple Leaf

11/24/23 Maple Leaf

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Chirashi Test

11/22/23 Chirashi box from Seattle Fish Guys

Mike Daikubara is well known for both his urban sketches and prolific food sketches (the man seems to dine out nearly every day!). His colorfully depicted meals accompanied by written descriptions, commentary and overheard dialog often end up being mini restaurant reviews. Following him for many years, I discovered that we both use “the chirashi test” when trying unfamiliar Japanese restaurants, and it became a little joke between us. It’s an effective, economical way to sample the quality of the sashimi without investing in the sushi bar.

Thanks, Fish Guys!

As it has become our tradition (two years in a row is a tradition, right?), we let Seattle Fish Guys prepare most of our Thanksgiving meal this year. While there to pick up our big bag of eats, I spotted their grab-and-go chirashi box – something new that they had just started promoting. Since I’ve been buying from them for years, I obviously didn’t need to “test” the quality of their sashimi, but since it was my first chirashi there, it still qualified.

As you know, I rarely sketch my food (except for the occasional pastry), but in honor of Mike, I sketched my chirashi (which was delicious, colorful and a great value; the Fish Guys aced it).

Monday, November 27, 2023

Art, Pastries and Community


11/21/23 The Bridge Coffeehouse, my croissant and Roy

Urban sketcher David Hingtgen has a new show at The Bridge Coffeehouse. An eclectic mix of urban sketches, whimsical, imaginative pieces, car portraits and landscapes, his work has taken over all the walls of the north Seattle café. Roy and I met there to check out the show, chat and sketch.

One of many things we discussed was the importance of friendship and how much we value our sketching community. It was an apt topic that morning as we munched pastries, sipped coffee, sketched the other patrons and admired David’s art.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Hack Job

11/26/23 Northgate

Usually when I sketch trees that have been hacked to make way for utility lines, a big bite has been taken out of the middle, but otherwise, the tree stands at its full height. Driving home from an errand in Northgate, I spotted this poor tree that had simply been chopped off completely. From the breadth of its lowest limbs, it’s obvious that the tree had stood quite tall at one point. I suppose we should be grateful that it wasn’t cut down altogether, but seriously? That is one major hack job.

Technical note: In a sketch like this, I don’t make much effort to put in clouds and sky, since they don’t seem important to the story, but I must say I’m pleased with how they came out here. I’ve had mostly good results using the “licked” sky technique with Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, and since I started using Hahnemühle 100-percent cotton watercolor sketchbooks, the results have been consistently good. It’s as close to a ”real” watercolor effect as I could ever hope to get using watercolor pencils.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Out of This World

11/18/23 Natalie and a friend performing

Last week I was invited to a unique event: an “out-of-this-world memorial service” for a friend. Alive and very well, Natalie (AKA Shambhavi) decided there was no time like the present to celebrate living, and she invited many creative, talented friends from around the world to sing, dance, recite poetry and tell stories on Zoom. Impressed by the performances, I tried to sketch as many as possible as they honored their friendship with Natalie in humorous, creative ways.

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